By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — One of reggae’s greatest songwriters, lyricists and artists has died. The great Bunny Wailer, a founding member of Bob Marley’s Wailers died early Tuesday at 73. His manager confirmed Wailer’s death to the Jamaica Observer. “He died about 8:00 this morning. I’m still right here with him,” his manager, Maxine Stowe, told the Observer from the Medical Associates Hospital in Kingston. No cause of death was cited, but Wailer had suffered a second stroke last July.
He was born Neville Livingston, and until Tuesday was the final surviving member of the Wailers. Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh comprised the original Wailers, a trio whose influence and impact not only was immense in reggae circles, but throughout popular music worldwide. Marley passed of cancer in 1981. Tosh was murdered in 1987.
Wailer and Marley met as children. Later Marley’s mother moved in with Wailer’s father, and the two friends became stepbrothers. They formed the Wailing Wailers with Tosh in 1963. After joining producer Coxsone Dodd and Studio One, they had their first huge hit a year later with “Simmer Down.” It topped the Jamaican charts and attracted global attention. They issued several more singles and a debut album before taking a break until later in the decade.
From the late ‘60s until the early ‘70s, the original Wailers were an international force. Their 1973 LP “Catch A Fire” was the debut release for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and it helped catapult reggae into popularity in both Europe and America. But Wailer would depart the group shortly afterwards and launch a solo career that included such landmark albums as “Blackheart Man” in 1976 and “Rock ‘n’ Groove” in 1981.
Wailer would issue several more albums, including a pair of Marley tribute releases that won two of his three Grammy Awards. He was also awarded the Order of Merit by the Jamaican Government for his contributions to the country’s music in 2017.